By Kirsten Robbins in California
Team Bissell riders added the finishing touches to their fitness at a week-long training camp in Santa Rosa, California, before the start of the Tour of California on February 14. The riders and staff stayed at the historical Hotel La Rose, where the riders made use of the tough climbing the Sonoma County is famous for.
"We plan to show up at the Tour of California with a strong roster," said directeur sportif Glen Mitchell. "Our athletes should be commended for their hard work and training."
The team's eight-man roster for this year's Tour of California will field three strong time trialists. Ben Jacques-Maynes has placed inside the top ten in the time trial for two consecutive seasons and hopes to improve his time in the stage six 24-kilometre time trial, held on the rolling Solvang countryside.
"I haven't put the same amount of time into my time trial as I have in years passed," said Jacques-Maynes, who hopes to break away from being the team's GC rider and race less conservatively and more aggressively. "I think my time trial form comes as a result of doing work on the track. I think I've become a better road racer because of the work I've done on the track."
He and teammate Tom Zirbel joined the camp after competing in a season opener at the Tour of San Luis held in Argentina last week. Zirbel's second place in the Tour of San Luis time trial proved that he will arrive at the Tour of California on good form.
The Boulder native turned heads when he placed second in the 2008 US Pro time trial championships, a slim margin behind Dave Zabriskie (Garmin). "I look at Tom, who was seconds away from the time trial championships and he continues to perform extremely well," said Mark Bissell, owner of Bissell vacuum cleaners. "Anything is possible for us at the Tour of California this year. They have the capabilities, the equipment and the full support. I think with the right set of conditions there is no reason why either Tom or Ben couldn't win the time trial."
Jeremy Vennell, the New Zealand national time trial champion, is also hoping to perform well alongside his teammates in the time trial. Vennell won the national title on January 9 in Te Awamutu, New Zealand. "I spent a lot of time working with my new coach on the time trial," said Vennell. "The goal is for a good ride at the Tour of California. Of course, the time trial is not until stage six so there will be a lot of racing and hills before that. I think if a rider wants to finish within the top places in the overall, they need to make it to the time trial with the front group and then the time trial will decide the rest."
After six years of racing on separate teams, Andy Jacques-Maynes joins his twin brother Ben on the Bissell roster at the Tour of California for his debut at the professional level racing. "We are each other's biggest fans," said Andy Jacques-Maynes. "We are always there to support each other, cheering each other on. We always talk about our racing and now we are actually going to be racing together. That confidence in one another is cool and the synchronistic we have with each other is awesome. The two of us together is so much better than two random individuals with our strengths."
The eight-man roster includes the Jacques-Maynes brothers, Zirbel and Vennell along with strong sprinters Peter Latham, Kirk O'Bee, Frank Pipp and Omer Kem. "We are rounding out the team in terms of capabilities," said team owner Bissell. "We added some speed with Kirk, Frank and Peter. We've always had great results at the Tour of California and my hope is that we continue to raise the bar. The race in California has evolved into an international race that gets a lot of attention. It's the highest level of competition and great exposure for our guys."